New “Mounds” at Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what form?


The somewhat controversial “Mounds” at Washington Square Park are starting to take some shape in the Southwestern mid-section of the park. Originally part of Phase II of the park’s redesign, they were moved into Phase III construction, going on now. I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at the park.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

It seems to me they are being turned into the opposite of this and will be “play equipment.” It would be good if there was some actual tracking of what the final result will be (before it is too late).

Go here to read this refresher on the Mounds; originally published December 16, 2008: What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.
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Also, this links to another video of the Mounds being used for sleigh riding a few years back and is very sweet.

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Washington Square Music Festival Responds to Post on Scaling Back of Performances and Festival Relationship to Washington Sq Association

On Tuesday (7/31), this post appeared on this blog: Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight. Washington Square Music Festival Executive Director Peggy Friedman, while not questioning the substance of the piece itself, wrote in to offer her position as far as the Washington Square Association’s relationship to the Washington Square Music Festival. She wrote, as follows:

Re: New stage in Washington Square and the WS Music Festival: While we are always glad for the coverage given to the Music Festival, I must take exception to the statement that I was somehow influenced by our parent organization, the Washington Square Association in the 2009 meeting before Landmarks Commission. So much water has gone under the bridge since then, that I would have to see a transcript to agree to how the Festival did or did not vote. We have never been satisfied with the stage, or the smaller audience space, but we are getting used to it, and had two fabulous concerts there recently. However, the suggestion that any vote I made was influenced IN ANY WAY by the Washington Square Association is false. We are our own entity and the Association respects us and supports us. It is not necessary for the two entities to agree on every point. Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Association has always been particularly helpful, and I would like to clarify her and the Board’s policy of “non-interference”. Thank you, Peggy Friedman.

In other news, The Villager has a nice profile of Ms. Friedman this week.

Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight

Charles Mingus Orchestra on previous stage at WSP

Updated-There is a story behind the scaled back number of concerts the Washington Square Music Festival is performing this year at Washington Square Park. Traditionally, the Festival, which has performed in its namesake park for 54 years, would present four or five concerts each season at the landmark park. This year, the number of concerts taking place was scaled back to two. The other performances have taken place at nearby St. Joseph’s Church, traditionally the ‘rain date’ venue. The final concert of the season takes place tonight at Washington Square.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told the New York Times that the festival “kept clear of the park it was named for this summer, partly because of construction and partly because the music on its first two programs was better suited to the festival’s rain space — St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, on Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place — than to the traditional outdoor setting.”

However, that’s not entirely accurate; perhaps she didn’t think the New York Times was going to care about all the specifics behind this decision but Ms. Friedman knew this blog would. It would be hard for any one involved in the years’ long saga behind the park’s redesign not to have known that the stage would ultimately not work out for the Music Festival. Last year was the first year the Washington Square Music Festival (WSMF) performed on it after Phase II opened in June.

The reconfigured stage was forced upon the community and the park by the Parks Department despite the concerns the Music Festival – and pretty much everyone involved – expressed. The WSMF said publicly upon viewing the plans that they anticipated problems with the sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage (28″ versus a standard and acceptable 36″), the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage.

One of the ‘stipulations’ of the (basically non-binding) “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” was that the redesigned stage work for the Washington Square Music Festival. (The Gerson-Quinn Agreement was an intervention of sorts by former NY City Council Member Alan Gerson – WSP fell in his district – and Council Speaker Christine Quinn – neighboring parts of Greenwich Village were, and are, in her district – which acted as a quasi-blueprint to alleviate some of the concerns the community had about park’s redesign.) It was clear all along that it wouldn’t.

However, if the Music Festival had spoken up to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2009 before Phase II was approved and stated ‘it just wouldn’t work,’ the Parks Department and designer George Vellonakis would have had to go back to the drawing board. Instead, the WSMF told the Landmarks Preservation Commission they reluctantly supported the plans. The reason the organization did not (and I gather felt it could not) speak out is because they are under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association — which was in favor of the Bloomberg Administration’s redesign of the park. And so, they sealed their fate and the fate of others who would utilize the stage by not speaking out.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told me before the season started why the Music Festival had scaled back this year:

We faced two challenges last summer on the new stage that need to be addressed  1) the total lack of security and the inability to contact police help 2) the overwhelming heat now that the trees that used to surround the stage near Garibaldi have been cut down.  We are hiring private security which is a considerable new expense and probably performing in the Wenger Wagon, a covered stage which must be rented from Parks, another new expenseTherefore we have designed two indoor concerts of music that is more appropriate in a controlled, indoor space.  It is cheaper to do concerts indoors and St. Joseph’s has been very generous to us.

Shortly after the 2009 LPC hearing at which the new stage was addressed, a comment came in to this blog with some interesting feedback from reader Elton:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no acoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

However, there was no rethinking of the plan. At some point, years from now, I believe this stage will be readdressed but, for now, you can catch the last concert of the Washington Square Music Festival’s season at the park tonight at 8 p.m.

July 31, 8 pm: DEEP SAHARA BAND — free
Washington Square, main stage south of Fifth Avenue
Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré leader and vocal soloist
performs music of West Africa, the roots of American jazz, on guitar, Kora,(African harp), ngoni (ancestor of American banjo), talking drum, tama, drum set, conga, djembé (a rope-tuned skin-covered drum played with bare hands)

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Review of first concert this season New York Times (July 11), Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, Set for Strings and Voices

Review, New York Times (July 19th), Echoes of Vienna and Byron

Previously at WSP Blog:

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; Parks Department Agrees to Increase # of Alcoves

On the 2011 season

Photo: Nan Melville

WSP Redesign Phase III begins! No Restrooms for one Year? Asbestos Removal from Old Buildings, “Pergola” and New Mounds on the Way

Securing the new fence

Restrooms off limits for one year…

Tree protection remains inadequate…

At last, Phase III (well, technically IV) of Washington Square Park‘s dramatic, lavish redesign began last week! I’ve been working on updating the site so that’s taken some priority lately. Two park activists informed me on the same day that there will be no use of the park’s bathrooms for ONE YEAR while Phase III is ongoing (strange, eh? that replacement temporary units would not be put into play? Not that the WSP bathrooms have ever been a great priority to the Parks Department). The Villager finally began covering the redesign at this late stage and discovered that there is asbestos being removed from the three buildings that are being replaced. Those three small buildings – the men’s and women’s bathrooms and park administrative office – will all become one housed within a “pergola.” (Envision an upscale suburban train station.) As you can imagine, I attended more than a few meetings about Phase III and the new buildings and strangely (?) no one ever mentioned asbestos.

More to come…

Overview of Phase III

Chess Plaza Opened Today!

Remaining Fences Down!

Among the first Chess Players at newly open Chess Plaza

Path looking South

Well, it took 29 months, but, at last, the Chess Plaza and SW Quadrant – Phase II-B of construction at the Park – has opened today!

It feels smaller and a bit less cozy than before. Well, it IS smaller. The Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and I had a bit of a back-and-forth back in February of 2009 about a # of issues related to WSP, including the Chess Plaza being reduced, and he stated the following:

While the overall size of the plaza is being reduced somewhat, the most critical area of the chess plaza is the chess tables, not the center which is generally empty. The renovation will include the same number of tables, but they will be new, better designed and more welcoming to more chess players – and they will be accessible to people with disabilities. There will be plenty of space for onlookers to stand and watch the games. As with the rest of the park, the renovation of the chess area will likely result in greater use, not less.

The difference is that before it didn’t feel so much like a space you just ‘passed through’ which is the feeling now. Things happened in the center which the Parks Commissioner felt was “generally empty” — a space which is now occupied by a flower bed. Perhaps that space that the Parks Commissioner thought was basically useless served a purpose after all?

(Note: Will add in a photo to illustrate!)

At least Phase II is now officially complete! (Of course, parts of the original Phase II moved into Phase III.)

Previously at WSP Blog:

* Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

* After 29 Months, Will the Final ‘Piece’ of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II Construction – Chess Plaza – Open Tomorrow? March 1, 2012

Part II – Arborcidal Design For Fountain Trees at Washington Square. Will City’s Parks Department Address This At Last?

Dead Tree #1 - by the Arch (3rd time)

The New York City Parks Department has a page on their web site dedicated to tree damage and arborcide which states:

It is illegal and punishable by law for citizens to remove, kill, or damage a street or park tree, whether intentionally or accidentally.

In April 2008, The New York Times wrote of two incidents of person(s) killing trees in Soho and Inwood Hill Park. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said at the time: “there is a city law against arborcide, passed during Mr. [Henry] Stern’s tenure as commissioner, that provides for fines of up to $15,000 and even jail time for tree killers.”

So what can be done when the tree killing is being done by the Parks Department itself?

It’s striking enough that under this Parks Department and Mayor thousands of trees have been unnecessarily felled. When Mike Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Benepe talk about their “MillionTrees Initiative,” it’s one of the biggest greenwashing ruses possibly that exists, at least within this urban environment.

Dead Tree #2 - east side (3rd time)

The seven trees that have died around the fountain – planted and replanted; it totals seven over 2 years – presumably weren’t meant to be killed, but, due to an inappropriate design and lack of follow-through by the Parks Department, that is the result. In two locations, new trees have died three times after being planted. (Seven of the tree locations that surround the fountain are new and part of the park’s redesign; the new trees have replaced the previous 40+ year old trees which were healthy and thriving. More on this below.)

The dead trees were brought up at a Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting in December 2009 (note: the Community Board has not addressed this since).

I wrote at that time:

There was one item of note: A brief discussion on why two of the new trees planted around the Washington Square Park Fountain died earlier this year. Landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted [note: when I asked] that there is “no drainage problem” and that it was just a result of the construction (which is troubling, if so, also).

I encountered a landscape architect at the park one day in August when the two trees were being dug up and removed who informed me that the (new) design is not appropriate for proper water drainage with structural soil and that this diminishes (perhaps eliminates) the tree’s ability to survive.

Latest #3 - west (as it was dying)

Seven of the trees that lined the Fountain (close to forty years old) were axed because of the Bloomberg Administration’s desire to relocate the Washington Square Park Fountain 22 feet east so that it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. The Fountain had been in its previous location since 1871.

The true test will be if the new trees planted survive. If they don’t, let’s hope that the Parks Department will take some corrective action.  It seems wrong to sacrifice living trees for a potentially flawed design.

What I didn’t write when I first reported this — the landscape architect I encountered had strong ties to, and inside knowledge of, the Parks Department and was very familiar with structural soil (which is what is being used around the Fountain trees). He told me at the time that it was possible that all the trees would eventually die (and now we see that a third one has).

I’ve since also been told more recently by another expert that the roots are too deep and the tree’s roots are being suffocated. (Also, see this informative comment at WSP Blog left this morning.)

Neighborhood activist Sharon Woolums interviewed a “tree expert” who looked at the trees and confirmed all of the above. From her piece in the Villager from December 2009:

First, the tree pits they were planted in were a huge mistake because there appears to be no drainage capability! [Richard] Hawthorne surmised it was a design detail that won, over advice from any certified arborist.

“Instead of planting them in a pit,” Hawthorne explained, “they should have been planted at ground level with a small retaining wall built around them, the same diameter as the pits, preferably larger, making sure holes are built at the base of the walls to allow excess water to drain off. The walls would even offer a bench for people to sit on while listening to bluegrass music.”

I said, “Isn’t that what we used to have?

Second, Hawthorne maintains that some of the trees around the fountain were not properly planted. Too much dirt was piled over the “root flair,” which Hawthorne maintains can smother and kill them. A tree bought in a nursery, balled or burlapped, has only 15 percent of its required root system: That’s why it’s so important to make sure they are planted correctly. The worst and most common mistake is planting a tree too deep.

It doesn’t seem to be much of a secret — by those knowledgeable in this area — that the design is the problem. In effect, our city’s Parks Department is committing arborcide. The agency has not moved to properly evaluate – and remedy – the situation due to (what can only be attributed to) internal politics, bureaucracy, and a lack (seemingly) of anyone stepping forward to attribute the dead trees to the design.

At the time I met this landscape architect with connections at the Park in August of 2009, I asked him (somewhat naively, it seems), “If it’s known that there’s a problem and the trees will die, wouldn’t someone send a memo to the Parks Commissioner?”

He gave this some thought for a moment; then responded that they could … but they likely won’t. He said no one would step forward to implicate the design and contradict George Vellonakis, the park’s re-designer (who is on staff at the Parks Department), because of the ramifications for doing so within the city agency. The trees, he said, would keep dying until eventually it could no longer be ignored and required acknowledgement that there was an inherent problem. And that is exactly what has been happening. But will it be acknowledged this time?

Such is the dysfunction of this city’s Parks Department. Killing our park’s trees.

Tree #3 officially dead (west)

Part I from Monday July 11th: Why do the Newly Planted Trees Keep Dying Around the Washington Square Fountain?

Photos: Cathryn
Note: The three dead trees, pictured above, are no longer there; they were removed Tuesday morning.

Washington Square Music Festival 2011 Premieres Tuesday, July 12th; Four Free Concerts Tuesdays in the Park on New Garibaldi Stage

Updated 5:30 p.m. – The Washington Square Music Festival’s new season begins at the Park on Tuesday, July 12th with four free performances. It’ll be the festival’s first season performing on the new Garibaldi Stage and we’ll see how that goes.

History of the new Stage in Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

Phase II’s Garibaldi Stage takes the place of the stage that existed on the popular and now demolished “Teen Plaza.” Executives from the Washington Square Music Festival told the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a public hearing in March of 2009 that the newly designed stage is ” too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area” and that the stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” Still, “with reluctance,” the organization supported the redesigned stage.

The Washington Square Music Festival is presented under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association (the organization presents two annual events at the Park – the Music Festival and the Christmas Tree Lighting) which was in favor of the park’s redesign plan. Due to that, festival executives likely felt they could not speak out too strongly; however, it would have made a difference if they had.

For the stage’s new design and configuration, it was mandated that community input be taken into account but the Parks Department, as is often their way, went ahead with their plans without consulting anyone. The agency felt the Teen Plaza area was “too isolated.” Instead of finding another way to recreate that space, they destroyed it (moving the Petanque Court also – that doesn’t seem to be working out too well either; more on that to come).

The stage previously was 36″ tall; it is now somewhere around 28″ tall. It has been used for a few performances and exhibits since the Eastern end of the Park opened on June 2nd but this round of performances will be a true test.

A note: It would appear to me that the stage could be reconstructed and made higher if deemed necessary in the future. 

This year’s Festival:

The Washington Square Music Festival will perform for four Tuesdays beginning July 12th through August 2nd. All concerts are free and begin at 8 p.m. It’s the festival’s 53rd season; only one did not take place within Washington Square Park (2009).

Tuesday, July 12th: Opera in the Park Bronx Opera’s debut appearance in Washington Square. Michael Spierman conducting Festival Chamber Orchestra in W.A. Mozart’s The Impresario with soloists from The Bronx Opera Company and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony.

Tuesday, July 19th:  The Joy of Unfamiliar Music — Festival Chamber Ensemble with soloists perform Emmanuel Séjourné’s Concerto for Marimba and strings; Luciano Berio’s Opus Number Zoo, for speaker and wind quintet; Corrado Maria Saglietti’s Suite for Alto Trombone and String Quartet.

Tuesday, July 26th: Music Making by the Master — Stanley Drucker (formerly first clarinet for 30 years for the New York Philharmonic) and the Festival Chamber Ensemble performing W.A. Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K.581; Astor Piazzolla’s Four for Tango; Anton Arensky’s String Quartet op 35 in a minor.

Tuesday, August 2nd: The Charles Mingus Orchestra Plays Jazz — Featuring the 10 piece band performing works by the late Charles Mingus.

Rainspace: St. Joseph’s Church, 371 Sixth Avenue
Website here; Contact phone #212-252-3621

** There’s a nice piece this week in the Downtown Express on the direction of the Washington Square Music Festival and this year’s season under Music Director Luiz Rath which you can read here.

Washington Square Park Eastern Side Opens Today!

Updated

Looking West Towards the Fountain

Pathway headed East from the Fountain

Garibaldi!

Garibaldi Plaza Stage

Costa Nicholas, first musician to grace Garibaldi Stage !

Playground Opens

Little Girl in the Playground

Some Tiles Salvaged from "Teen Plaza" in Playground

Two Men Chatting on the NorthEast Side

North East Quadrant

Small Dog Run on Wash Square South

Strange little alcove along Washington Square South

And, of course, The Arch (not part of Phase II)

The Eastern Side of Park – under construction for oh so long – opened today and people seem ecstatic to reclaim this large swatch (swath?) of New York City public space. I realized how much I missed the East Side. It was the end of the park I knew better than the Western end. No commentary today – just pictures! And the fountainout from under repair, is on!

Post from earlier today has more details on Phase II specifics and what’s taken so long, how much it cost, what some of the issues have been around the 20 months of construction and park’s redesign.

Commentary and thoughts on Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II-A’s unveiling coming Monday, June 6thTuesday, June 7th!

Photos: Cathryn

The News You’ve Been Awaiting: Eastern Side of Washington Square Park (Phase IIA of Redesign) Opened Today!

The news you’ve been looking for! The Northeast and Southeast Quadrants of Washington Square Park opened today, Thursday, June 2nd! This will complete Phase II – A, a large section of the park, the entire eastern side, which has been under construction for 20 months. PHOTOS COMING!

Phase II was scheduled for completion by Fall 2010; then we heard the end of the year (tho’ doubted it), then “Spring 2011,” then “by Memorial Day,” but park goers looked happy to be finally able to stream through the eastern end of the park.

Of course, this isn’t all of Phase II, since, for one, part of it (The Mounds and the Large Dog Run) was moved into Phase III. And Chess Plaza, technically still in Phase II, now Phase II-B, won’t be finished til the end of the month. At least, at last, it’s something!

WSP Blog chronicled the problems back in September 2010 outlining how the city’s parks department caused numerous delays in getting the job done, how the project was over-budget, and the fact that no governmental agencies were providing oversight.

Washington Square Park’s entire redesign – Phases I, II, and III – was budgeted and approved for $16 Million at the onset. Phase I alone — which moved the fountain to align with the Arch, reduced the public space around the fountain, and re-landscaped the NorthWest Quadrant, opened in May of 2009 — cost $13 Million. Phase II was budgeted at $9 Million but will likely be $8 Million and that’s without the Large Dog Run and Mounds (included in the original figure). Phase III (rest rooms and administrative building – the new “pergola”) had been budgeted at $9 Million (note – that’s before the cost of the Mounds and Dog Run are added in). (Got all that?)

Since the Parks Department’s projects continue to be seriously over-budget with no apparent oversight by any governing body, the project by the end will have more than doubled from its approved budget and is now projected for $30-$35 Million in cost.

The fountain is out from under wraps but not on yet – in case you were wondering.

PHOTOS here.

Garibaldi Uncloaked, Unscaffolded and Restored! Barring Last Minute Setbacks, Eastern End of Park to Open Soon

Garibaldi Now

Updated 5/26 – Poor Garibaldi Statue… he’s had a rough time — first moved from his original location, looking worn down, exposed to the elements, then covered in a gawdy blue cloak (for a long stretch) and, more recently, encased in scaffolding.

But now Garibaldi’s been uncloaked, cleaned, restored, re-patinized and unscaffolded and is looking quite dapper!

Which also signals that the eastern side of the park – Phase IIA – is set to open soon. Likely not “by Memorial Day” (which is Monday the 30th) as the Parks Department told Community Board 2 in early April but pretty close! I’m going with Tuesday or Wednesday next week at this moment. (Update 5/26: I’d be surprised if it is next week but we’ll see.) There could be setbacks and the city will want the fountain out from under repair at that point too (not certain how that’s going).

Just what was done to Garibaldi? Got the word in late March from the NYC Parks Department on what would be done to the 123 year old statue as he waited cloaked in blue; that entailed the Public Design Commission approving the “cleaning, patination, coating and restoration methodologies and procedures.”

cloaked in blue...

Who was Garibaldi? At the time the statue was moved from its previous location in April 2010, I reported on some history of Giuseppe Garibaldi:

The Giuseppe Garibaldi Statue at Washington Square Park was moved last week from its position facing west (looking toward the fountain, his back was to Washington Square East).

The Garibaldi Statue was designed by Giovanni Turini and erected in 1888. It was refurbished once but not moved (hard to find info on that but there was a plaque outlining it at the Park – American Express financed it at the time).

under scaffolding

Some background on the Garibaldi statue from Emily Kies Folpe in her book, It Happened on Washington Square. Interesting note that Garibaldi was approached by Abraham Lincoln at the start of the Civil War to command a Union army corps. In response, one of Garibaldi’s stipulations was that Lincoln commit to abolishing slavery. This was not agreed to. Garibaldi declined.

Previous Location During Construction

There was something nice about the previous location, coming from the fountain and encountering Garibaldi regally standing there, welcoming you into the eastern end of the park (admittedly, while also ready to draw his sword!). I imagine the designer wanted to open up the vista (as was done – and works – on the western side). I asked designer George Vellonakis to take me for a tour of the park before it opens so he could tell me in person what he had in mind but he declined.

We’ll know soon enough how the new design fits the newly refurbished park when Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II opens on the eastern end after 20 months of construction. Stay tuned!

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For more interesting background on Garibaldi, visit New York City Statues.